Decision making in tennis: exploring the use of kinematic and contextual information during anticipatory performance

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Vernon, Georgina (2020) Decision making in tennis: exploring the use of kinematic and contextual information during anticipatory performance. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Expert tennis players are known to anticipate the serve of an opponent using two sources of information from their environment. Kinematic information sources are cues from the action of the server, while contextual information may be any source of information outside of the visual kinematic cues which the expert considers. While previous research has examined the contribution of these two sources on an expert tennis player’s anticipation capability, it is still unknown how they interact during the return of serve. Consequently, this thesis had two aims: 1. Investigate the temporal interaction of kinematic and contextual information sources considered by expert tennis players when returning serve. 2. Investigate how changes in kinematic or contextual sources of information alters an expert player’s return of serve performance. The two aims of this thesis were considered to address the current gap in the existing literature, and enhance our understanding about the temporal priority of anticipatory information sources expert tennis players are attuned to during the return of serve. The three investigations from this thesis revealed a number of important findings about the temporal interaction of anticipatory information sources. Study 1 determined nine higher order themes from qualitative interviews with expert tennis players about their returning experiences in professional matches. These themes were developed into a temporal model that presented the anticipatory information in order of priority during the return of serve. Study 2 found that although expert tennis players discussed the influence of contextual information on their returning behaviour in Study 1, spatiotemporal data from professional matchplay revealed that this only had an influence on their depth position, and not their lateral position. This study also found that the largest variation in return position occurred at return impact, which was important for confirming that significant changes in return position does not occur until ball flight information is available. The final experiment revealed that although expert tennis players are attuned to contextual and kinematic information, this information does not necessarily improve the quality of the return. Contextual information was the priority anticipatory information source until ball toss information became available. The kinematic information from the ball toss is then prioritised by the returners until ball flight information is available, which was found to be the most influential information source for altering returner behaviour. Furthermore, it was found that expert tennis players were not susceptible to a congruence effect as suggested in a number of previous studies. The conclusion from the experimental series is that a returner’s behaviour is influenced by the most reliable source of information available at each moment in time, with ball flight information the most reliable and heavily prioritised source. This finding is important for tennis players and coaches to consider when implementing training strategies for the returners to recognise and respond to the various information sources during a match.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Current > FOR Classification > 1106 Human Movement and Sports Science
Current > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Current > FOR Classification > 1702 Cognitive Science
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Keywords tennis players; kinematic information; contextual information; anticipatory information; return of serve; performance; congruence effect; ball flight; anticipation
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